Mentors Hope to Help Teens Succeed; Business Leaders Volunteer Their Time for a New Program

Article excerpt

Byline: CANDY BOWEN

Growing up in the '80s in Jacksonville wasn't easy for Kharis Quaintance.

For years, his single mom worked three or four jobs to provide for Quaintance and his brother. Money was often scarce.

Only the "nerds" made good grades and stayed out of trouble, Quaintance said. So to stay on the good side of his strict mother, and to avoid the wrath of his schoolmates, Quaintance devised a plan to bring home only B's and C's. And it worked -- until he wanted more.

"I wanted to take algebra in middle school and my teacher told me I couldn't," Quaintance said. "She said, 'You're only a C student in regular math, you can't take an advanced level math.' "

Not being able to convince the teacher that he could score better, Quaintance signed up for summer school and passed pre-algebra with a B. He was then allowed to take algebra the next term. After middle school, Quaintance, now a vice president at AmSouth Bank, said he remained a B and C student, but this time he was the average student in advanced classes.

Back then, Quaintance admits, fuel for success was the need to prove naysayers wrong. But later, he found the real key to moving forward in business was having friends who could encourage and cheer him on.

"I had several mentors throughout the years," he said. "The secret is to find people with knowledge and the willingness to help. And to not have too much pride to look to them when you need them."

Esmin Master, social services director at Vestcor Development Corp., hopes the teens who live in Vestcor's income-restricted apartment complexes learn that message from Quaintance and other volunteer business leaders who are mentors in a new program called Vestcor Leadership Academy. Teens come from Vestcor apartments throughout Jacksonville. …